Tuesday, July 09, 2002

Special grand jury created


Allegations against priests investigated

By Dan Horn, dhorn@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hamilton County prosecutors convened a special grand jury Monday to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct by Catholic priests.

        The decision to call for a special grand jury suggests that the prosecutors' three-month investigation into the Archdiocese of Cincinnati has reached a critical phase.

STORY ARCHIVE
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        The nine-member grand jury will have the power to issue subpoenas, review evidence and hear witness testimony about the abuse allegations.

        Ultimately, the jury could be asked to indict suspects on criminal charges.

        The special grand jury is believed to be among the first in the nation called for the purpose of investigating abuse allegations involving priests. Similar juries now are at work in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

        “This is a growing trend we are seeing because of the secrecy within which these dioceses are operating,” said Mark Serrano, a board member for the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “Prosecutors must turn to whatever measures are necessary to get the documents they need.”

        A special grand jury is different from a regular grand jury because it typically investigates only one case and can remain in place for many months, as opposed to only a few weeks.

        Grand juries are valuable tools for prosecutors because they can issue subpoenas, which require witnesses to appear for questioning. Prosecutors cannot do that on their own.

        Under the law, grand juries always work in secret.

        Prosecutor Mike Allen declined comment and church officials said they were not aware a special grand jury had been formed.

        “We have followed the law and will continue to follow the law, whatever mechanism the prosecutor chooses to use to further the investigation,” said archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco.

        Prosecutors and church officials have been at odds since April, when Mr. Allen publicly criticized the archdiocese for failing to supply records he demanded for the investigation.

        Church lawyers have said they are cooperating with prosecutors and have provided all the documents they are legally permitted to share.

        The investigation began when Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk announced that the church has substantiated allegations of abuse against five priests who continue to be employed by the archdiocese.

        Since then, three archdiocese priests have taken or been placed on leave because of abuse allegations, all of which date back at least 10 years.

        Another priest was suspended because of suspected misconduct related to his use of church computers.

        The special grand jury was sworn in Monday morning by Common Pleas Judge Fred Cartolano, who warned jurors that the law requires them to keep silent about their work as jurors.

        The judge did not disclose the purpose of the grand jury, but he did describe the jurors as “special grand jurors.”

        The two prosecutors present for the proceeding were Tom Longano and Mark Piepmeier — the same two prosecutors who have been named by Mr. Allen to lead the investigation into the archdiocese. Neither would comment Monday.

        Grand juries in other cities have investigated accused priests as well as their supervisors. So far, however, no bishop or other high-ranking church official has been charged with a crime.

        A grand jury in Westchester County, N.Y., issued a report last month blasting church officials there for covering up abuse by priests.

        The grand jury did not charge anyone with a crime, but it found that church officials “lied” to parishioners about clergy misconduct.

        Hamilton County prosecutors already have used a grand jury during their investigation into the archdiocese. In April, a regular grand jury took the extraordinary step of calling Archbishop Pilarczyk to testify about church records.

        The church eventually supplied the records and the archbishop did not have to testify.

        Unlike that grand jury, the special grand jury is expected to work exclusively on the archdiocese case and to remain in place until a decision is made on whether to charge anyone with a crime.

        The grand jury also could issue a report without charging anyone with a crime, or it could disband without taking any action.

        Mr. Allen has said old abuse cases are often difficult to prosecute because the statute of limitations may have expired.

       



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